In the interest of full disclosure, I am not a sports fan. For the first two decades of my life, I lived near Pittsburgh and I often say that they forced me to leave because I didn’t bleed black and gold. I mean, if I had to pick a team, sure I’d go for Pittsburgh, but I try to avoid sports whenever possible. For the next 2+ decades, I’ve been living in New York and am married to a life-long Mets fan. Fortunately for me, he understands my aversion to all things competition and has instead focused his attention on brainwashing (just kidding honey!) our kids into little blue-and-orange enthusiasts. Although I’d been to Shea Stadium a number of times, I’d managed to avoid Citifield since it opened. Until now.
While I’m not a sports fan, I am absolutely a Billy Joel fan. Although famous worldwide, Billy is a beloved Long Islander and to see a concert of his at Jones Beach might be one of the coolest things I’ve ever done. Twice. Well, three times actually, if you count that one of those concerts was cancelled halfway through due to weather. And when we returned for the make-up date, Billy was gracious and thankful to all the fans for waiting in the monsoon-like rains for the official cancellation. He’s an incredible song-writer; more of a storyteller, actually. Who could imagine that one man could perfectly describe the lives of a young soldier, a down-on-his-luck fisherman and a child of a shuttered steel town? English teachers talk about the existence of “The Great American Novel.” Just listen to Billy’s catalog and you’ve got your quintessential American story right there. And as testament to his (and his band’s) musicianship, other famous, well-respected musicians love him too, and often drop by his concerts just to jam with him for a song or two.
Zoom back to my darling husband, excitedly arriving home from work with four tickets to the New York premier of Last Play at Shea, a documentary filmed at the last Billy concert at Shea Stadium. And where would that premier be? At Citifield. Now, I’m not a party-pooper, but seriously, I’d have to drive all the way to Queens, battle the traffic on the LIE, pay those exorbitant parking fees and climb up stadium staircases to watch a movie about a concert in a baseball stadium? I know, ridiculous. Right? I tried to get more energized by reading the pre-show article in Newsday, which explained that the documentary was as much about the Mets and the history of Shea Stadium as about Billy. Ugh. Even Billy was uncertain about the whole affair (“I was calling my agent asking, ‘Do people know what they’re buying?'”). On the other hand, I reasoned that it could be a lovely night out with my family. And it IS Billy.
So off we went with two of our children in tow. We left early enough to beat the traffic and, it turns out, parking was only $5. So far so good. We entered Citifield through the Jackie Robinson Rotunda which is an awe-inspiring memorial to the baseball legend and even got to peek through the windows of the Mets Museum and see the very first Mr. Met costume. That was cool. The entire stadium is beautifully-constructed to look like ballfields of old but with modern touches like the food court with an incredible array of food choices. Once in our seats, we watched the gigantic screens, where some of our fellow premier-goers were shown winning signed CDs and guests were encouraged to add to the slide show of pictures flashed on the screens.
Finally, the movie began. At the beginning, Billy wasn’t very encouraging when he said that hoped we would like the movie and noted that he watched it and didn’t even throw up. Great.
But that was where my reticence ended. From beginning to end, this documentary enthralled. My 16-year-old didn’t even text for two hours! Tying Billy’s life story to the history of the Mets and Shea, the filmmakers showed Robert Moses’ development of the suburbs, Darryl Strawberry’s note that Shea might have been a dump, but it was our dump, and the pride and heartbreak of being a Mets fan through the years. These moments, juxtaposed with Billy’s ups and downs, were masterfully woven together. Although I know what happened 24 years ago, I found myself on the edge of my seat, watching the end of the World Series-winning game and holding my breath until the very last play. The story of Billy’s high-profile romance with Christie Brinkley was utterly delightful and a recently-interviewed Brinkley spoke with such affection about her ex-husband, even tearing up when discussing how he had been cheated by people he had loved and trusted.
Concert footage and old photos of Billy and the Mets were edited together beautifully. When Goodnight Saigon played alongside videos of (and a touching Mike Piazza interview about) the first game at Shea after 9/11, I cried; all the memories of that horrible event washed back over me.
For Billy’s last concert at Shea, a range of musicians from Tony Bennett to John Mayer joined him on stage and kept the audience (and Billy) spellbound. Finally, the crescendo culminated in the excitement of Sir Paul McCartney’s appearance. As the Beatles were the first to play at Shea, Billy wanted Paul to join him for the last concert, and until the actual concert, it was unclear whether he would be able to get there. Sir Paul recounted that airspace was cleared for his landing, customs officials rushed him through and he had a police escort from the airport to the stadium. He marveled at this incredible ride and wished he could do that every time he traveled (he’s Paul McCartney for goodness sake! You mean he doesn’t do that every time he travels?!?!). Their duet of I Saw Her Standing There was outstanding, but then Billy walked off stage after Piano Man, hugged Paul and nonchalantly suggested that he come back on stage to end the show with Let it Be. With Paul on piano and Billy providing harmony, this was an unforgettably perfect ending to Shea Stadium.
And a perfect beginning to my new relationship with Citifield. Sigh….